Julian Fellowes was an actor for 30 years. Then, by a quixotic trick of fate, his life changed overnight. There was no planning to it, he said. But when he created "Downton Abbey" and viewers couldn't get enough of it, he became one of England's most famous screenwriters
Now he's hoping for a similar response to "Belgravia." The six-part series on Epix takes place in the 19th century amid the glitterati of the era assembled in London's upscale neighborhood of Belgravia, which is, of course, filled with secrets and scandals.
Ever since drama school, acting has served as Fellowes' métier.
"I was a very hard worker at getting work," he said.
"I had a rule that I never let a 24-hour period go by without doing something to make work happen — either an interview, writing a letter, making a telephone call, going to a show so I was there on the first night — whatever it was.
"Looking back, I think I was a bit too desperate. I think I should've calmed down. When people ask: What would you tell your 25-year-old self? I always say, 'Calm down,' because I was pushing and pushing and pushing."
He got married in 1990.
"I don't know whether that made me less desperate, but that calmed me down, and I was very happy. And a year later, I was a father and suddenly the work side of it started to take off."
It took off with roles in "Tomorrow Never Dies," "Shadowlands" and "Aristocrats." But acting proved unpredictable, and Fellowes started looking for a Plan B.
"I thought I would become a producer, and I set up at the BBC a children's drama. We needed some work done on the script, and we'd spent all the money [budgeted for the show], so we had to find someone to do the work for nothing. And, not surprisingly, nobody wanted this enticing job. And so I ended up stepping in and doing it myself," he said.
The show was successful, and he followed it with an adaptation of "Little Lord Fauntleroy," which earned an International Emmy.
"And then I was a writer. So it all happened with no planning at all," he said.
He started writing for adults. One of his scripts was a project for actor Bob Balaban. It never saw the light of day, but Balaban liked it.
"That proved to be my audition for the film that became 'Gosford Park' because Bob Balaban was trying to set it up with [director] Bob Altman," said Fellowes, whose script for the dark comic mystery won an Oscar.
"And the rest, if not history, at least explains how I progressed from there."
Three days after winning the Oscar, he started writing "Downton Abbey." The response to "Abbey" was extraordinary and exhilarating, he said.
"It was like being at the center of a good whirlwind, a magic carpet ride to end all."
He has never taken any of it for granted.
"I don't think one should ever forget that we have been given what many people — many of whom are far more talented certainly than I am, and they've never had the break. And I did get the break. And I think you must never lose your gratitude for that because it's not inevitable. There are many, many very talented people who were never quite in the right place at the right time."